By Ed Runyan
Two members of his own political party have attacked longtime Democratic Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka in recent months, alleging he’s responsible for nepotism and favoritism in county hiring practices, but his Republican opponent in the election has stayed on the sidelines.
Lakeview School Board member Mary Williams, a Republican challenging Polivka for his seat on the commissioners board, is aware that Commissioner Frank Fuda, a Democrat, has publicly accused Polivka of favoritism.
She also mentioned in her candidate questionnaire that Trumbull County has become “the employment agency for certain family and friends” and said in an interview that this is “one of the biggest concerns right now.”
But when asked for specifics, she said she had investigated a complaint involving the county engineer’s office but wouldn’t discuss what she found.
She said she had no specific information about unfair hiring practices. “As a commissioner, I would delve into it,” she said.
There were rumors in the spring that local Republicans were going to make a big push for Williams to unseat Polivka, but Williams said she’s gotten only nonfinancial support from the party so far.
In May, Fuda said top county department managers had apparently been hiring based on referrals from county commissioners. He discovered there were separate application folders at the Job and Family Services office marked for each county commissioner, he said.
People without a referral from a commissioner were being ignored, Fuda said.
Write-in candidate Todd Johnson, a Democrat and Warren pastor, also has criticized Polivka and the county’s hiring practices in general.
“Trumbull County has been plagued by nepotism and favoritism under Mr. Polivka’s leadership,” he said in a post on his campaign website.
Johnson, 34, said he will use his experience as a 10-year employee at Ohio Means Jobs, a state employment agency that operates out of the Job and Family Services office in Warren, to “formulate a standardized and modernized job posting and application process” for county employment if he’s elected county commissioner.
Polivka said the attacks by Fuda and Johnson are nothing more than a “smokescreen,” adding, “You find one person who I’ve said, ‘Hire this person.’”
Polivka, who has been a commissioner 121/2 years, has also been the Trumbull County Democratic Party chairman since 2010. Johnson has said that is a conflict of interest.
“It is impossible for [Polivka] to make fair, nonpartisan decisions,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that Commissioner Paul Heltzel raised questions in 2004 about whether Polivka and former commissioner James Tsagaris were having an improper influence on hiring decisions. Heltzel died in 2014.
“Eleven years later, they are still making accusations against each other,” Johnson said of Fuda’s complaints. “I’m the only commissioner offering a solid action plan.”
The county should make hiring more fair by posting jobs on the Ohio Means Jobs website, like many other Ohio county governments do. He added that several top area companies used Ohio Means Jobs for hiring.
Polivka, meanwhile, said he’s “business friendly” but also “works hard to get the best price” for services the county buys from companies.
He said he was the person who discovered that there was excess money in the county’s health insurance fund, avoiding the need to have a sales-tax increase this year. He also got new Saturday hours at the county’s dog kennel and got new cages for the kennel, he said.
In the other race for commissioner, Democrat Mauro Cantalamessa, who replaced Heltzel in 2014, is running for his first full term and is opposed by Republican James Priester of Hubbard, a part-time fuel attendant at Truck World in Hubbard who has never held elective office.
Priester said in a Vindicator questionnaire that he’s running because “there has not been significant improvement in economic conditions in the county and ... politicians and public employees are not responding well to public concerns.”
Cantalamessa said the county hiring practices have improved “night and day since I came on as commissioner,” adding, “I think we’re doing everything we can to be transparent.”
Cantalamessa says a committee formed to hire a new county human-resources director was done “pretty much at my urging.” He also served on the committee. Richard Jackson of the Cleveland area was hired to fill the job in August.
Other contested races include incumbent Democrat Karen Infante Allen opposed by Republican Deborah Bowles for clerk of courts, Democrat Todd Latell opposed by Republican Debbie Roth for recorder in an open seat, and incumbent Democrat Sam Lamancusa opposed by Republican Syreana Harris for treasurer.